tv [untitled] May 27, 2012 12:00am-12:30am EDT
american story on american history tv. get our schedules and see past programs at our websites. and you can join in the conversation on social media sites. each week, american history tv sits in on a lecture with one of the nation's college professors. you can watch the classes here every saturday at 8:00 p.m. and midnight eastern and sundays at 1:00 p.m. this week, american studies professor jonathan white looks at civil liberties and treason during the civil war. this 1:15 class took place at christopher newport university in newport news, virginia. >> today since we're talking about civil liberties usually i have a let me man made from schick fa lay, my favorite restaurant. i went to the state capital and picked up this mug. it's got the bill of rights. whenever you put a hot liquid in
it, the fifth, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth amendments all disappear. and then -- thank you. and then as your beverage gets cold, the bill of rights comes back. and fortunately i'm just drinking cold water today so we have all of our rights under the bill of rights. we're talking about lincoln during the war. many of you a lot of your classes you study how to defend the nation. in this class what we're going to look at is tension that exists in this country and other between national security and individual liberties. we're going to use lincoln as a lens to do this today. in a week or two we're going to look at jefferson davis. you're going to find jefferson davis did the same exact kinds of things lincoln did in the confederacy. last time we talked about secession. when lincoln was elected, the deep south seceded. and when he defended or sent a
boat to ft. sumpter to send supplies and the confederates fired on ft. sumpter in of a 1861, the confederates started the war, in a sense. now, they said lincoln started the war because he sent a boat to go to this place in charleston harbor. but in the wake of confederates firing on ft. sumpter, lincoln called for 75,000 troops to come to washington, d.c. to defend the national capital. now, this action on lincoln's part prompted the upper south to secede, so places like virginia where we are today seceded in the wake of lincoln's call for volunteers. and at that stage in the game, in april 1861, it was of paramount interest to lincoln to keep the border slave states in the union. and these are places like missouri, kentucky, maryland, and delaware. now, why is it important to lincoln to keep these states in the union? what do you think? chris?
>> maryland becomes a southern state and d.c. is surrounded and that could really undermine the war effort. >> good, yeah. maryland leaves the union. if maryland joins the confederacy the national capital is completely surrounded by an enemy nation. so it's imperative to keep maryland in the union. what other reasons could you think of? why would you want to keep the border slave states in the union? any other thoughts? >> strategic purposes during the war you want as much land as possible between you and the enemy. if he loses that, they're pretty much right on the doorstep. >> it keeps more space, more of maybe a buffer zone and it keeps more people in the union rather than having to fight against them, they stay with you. any other thoughts about why you want the slave states to stay in the union? ashley? >> it shows a mixture of the types of states that are in the union, like if all of the slave
sates seceded and became part of the confederacy it's a real divide between the two. if you keep some of the slave states in, then it kind of shows that you're not really letting that happen. >> good, yeah. that way it is not just the free north against the slave south. you have some of the slave states still in the union and it shows lincoln is trying to compromise and willing to try to do things to prevent war. for our purposes today maryland is the most important that we'll look at. the reason is that all of the railroads that went from the north to washington, d.c. went through baltimore. i'm going to use this google map to illustrate the railroad lines and it works well because the railroad lines of the 1860s followed our interstate highway system and so one line went from philadelphia down through baltimore and to washington d.c. it roughly followed i-95. another line went from harrisburg roughly down i-83 to baltimore and another line came
from the west roughly along route 70. and from here the trains would go southward to washington, d.c. so for lincoln it was imperative to keep maryland and keep baltimore in the union. if you're going to get troops to the national capital, then they have to go through baltimore. baltimore had a quirky system back then. the way it worked is it was illegal to have trains pass through the city attached to locomotives. so trains coming in from philadelphia would arrive at president street station, this is the station here, and it's on the eastern side of the inner harbor. trains coming down from harrisburg would arrive north of this map, and then trains coming from the west came south. what would happen because of this quirky law in baltimore when is the trines arrived, either at president street station or the one north of this map, they would be detached from the locomotives, attached to a team of horses and drawn by horse all the way
through the city. so a train coming to president street from philadelphia would follow this line around the inner harbor to camden station. then from camden station they would be attached to a new locomotive and sent southward to washington, d.c. baltimore has changed a lot since 150 years ago but it might look familiar to some of you. if you go to baltimore you can retrace these steps and you have the hard rock cafe and the barnes & noble up there and you've got the baltimore aquarium here, maybe some of you have been there and seen these sights right around the inner harbor. the first soldiers came down to baltimore on april 18, 1861 and they came down from pennsylvania on the harrisburg line. and so they stopped north of this map and they went southward. and a number of people from baltimore came out and yelled at them and hurled insults and epithets. they didn't like the idea of yankee scum threading through their city. but there was no real violence that day on april 19th -- april
18th, ape 61. 1861. the next day the mobs were ready when more soldiers came in. at about 10:00 a.m. on the morning of april 19th, 1861, about 1,000 unarmed and ununiformed on the jobs from pennsylvania and about 600 soldiers who had uniforms and weapons from massachusetts arrived at president street station. now, they had to take their cars, detach them from locomotives and go through the city to get over to camden station. the first several cars made it over without any problems. but a mob rose up and they threw anchors over the tracks and sand and other debris so that the railroad cars couldn't make it through the city. they threw bricks through the windows of the cars as the soldiers were being pulled through the city and eventually started firing into the soldiers. and i'll show you a couple of images of what this mob looked like. now, the soldiers were ordered not to fire into the crowd
unless they were first fired upon. so they took the brunt of this mob violence for some time and then eventually one of the soldiers had his thumb shot off and then the soldiers were given the order to fire. it became a melee, about four soldiers and 12 civilians killed in this riot and dozens were wounded and dozens of soldiers ended up missing. they would run into the streets and try to find shelter, try to get away from the violence of the mob. this image gives you a sense of some of the commotion going on. i'll show you one other. the police were actually in on the violence. i'll read you a quote from one witness who observed the riot. he said this. i saw a soldier in the gutter and two men kicking him almost to death. the police officers were holding him down while the men were kicking him. you get the sense people from baltimore did not want union soldiers passing through their city. well, that night the leaders in maryland had to decide how can
we prevent more violence from taking place? and so the governor of maryland, a guy named thomas hicks, the police marshal of baltimore, george cain, and the mayor of maryland -- or the mayor of baltimore, george william brown, all met at the mayor's home, and they had to come up with a plan. well, we don't want any more violence in our city. how can we stop it? by preventing soldiers from coming through. how do we stop soldiers from coming through our city? by stopping the trains. well, how do we stop the trains? how about we burn all the railroad bridges around baltimore. if the bridges are burned out, then the trains can't pass through our city and if the trains can't pass through our city, then there won't be any more soldiers coming through. and if the soldiers don't come through, there won't be any more mob violence. so the leaders of the government in maryland thought this was a good idea. on the night of april 19th and the early morning hours of april 20th, members of the baltimore police and the maryland state
militia rode around baltimore and around annapolis burning railroad bridges. and here's a 19th century google map for you and shows you the train routes going down from philadelphia, harrisburg from the west and around annapolis. and these officials from the baltimore and maryland governments went out and burned out the bridges. well, soldiers continued to come down from pennsylvania and from elsewhere in the north. now they were forced to stop when they got to a burned-out bridge. a contingent of about 2,000 or 3,000 soldiers were stopped about 14 miles north of baltimore in a place called cockeysville, maryland and got to a railroad bridge that was burned out and could go no further. and so they got out of their train cars and they set up camp on the farm of a guy named john merriman and this is an image of the farm, hayfields, he's got his mansion home there, cattle in the front. he was a very famous raiser of
cattle in those days. and they camped out there. now, merriman allegedly promised to even slaughter his cattle to supply these guys with food although it's doubtful that that was really true. southerners said that after the war. now, with 2,000 or 3,000 soldiers camped out 14 miles north of baltimore, the leaders of baltimore were terrified. they were afraid the soldiers might march south to baltimore and get retribution, vengeance for the violence that had taken place a few days before. so the mayor of baltimore hurried to the white house and he said to lincoln, you've got to send the soldiers back. send them back to pennsylvania. you've got to find a new way to get soldiers from the north to the d.c. cap call. you can't keep sending them through baltimore. so the union army came up with a new solution. they would ferry -- they would take soldiers to the northern end of the chesapeake bay, they
would ferry them down to annapolis and send them to d.c. from there, avoiding baltimore. trusting the wisdom and experience of his visitor, lincoln agreed, okay, i'll send the soldiers camped out in cockeysville back to the pennsylvania line. so on the morning of april 23rd, 1861, the union soldiers camped out at john merryman's farm packed up their as longings and headed northward. secessionists were not yet satisfied. a general of the maryland militia who was in baltimore sent out an order to maryland state militia units saying follow those soldiers back to pennsylvania, back to the mason-dixon line, and burn all the railroad bridges between baltimore and pennsylvania. so on the morning of april 23rd as the union soldiers retreated northward, a local militia unit called the baltimore county horse guards followed the soldiers and burned about six railroad bridges. the person leading that expedition was none other than john merriman, the first
lieutenant in this militia unit. and this gives you an image of two of his subordinates. we don't know who these guys are but these were members of the militia that went and burned out railroad bridges. now, there was a lot going on in maryland in april 1861. lincoln decided he had to take drastic measures. he suspended the writ of habeas corpus. now, what's the writ of habeas corpus? what does it do? molly? >> it is a writ that a prisoner can appeal to a judge and get the judge to force his like arresting officer to bring him to the court so he can be either officially charged or released. >> good. if you are ever arrested -- now, i know this won't happen to you guys. you're all good, law-abiding students, citizens. but if you have a friend that's ever arrested he or she has a right to know what he's being charged with. you can't be held and detained without charges indefinitely.
so the writ of habeas corpus is a court order where if someone is being detained without charges, they can get a lawyer and the lawyer will go to a judge and say, i petition for a writ of hab yus corpus. habeas corpus means, to have the body or hold the body. and this order will be sent to the person detaining the prisoner saying bring the body of the prisoner into court, before me, the judge, and tell me why you're detaining this prisoner. and if i think it's a good reason, if it is a lawful reason, then i will order the prisoner to be charged and recommitted to prison. if i think it's an unlawful reason, then i will order the prisoner to be released. lincoln suspended that privilege. he suspended the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus. and he did it because article 1 section 9 of the u.s. constitution says the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended except when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it.
and lincoln said, i'm in an instance of rebellion here. and public safety requires me to do this. now, in a little bit we're going to talk about what some of lincoln's arguments were and why this was a controversial decision. i wanted you to see how lincoln did this. he did this suspension not by a presidential proclamation. he didn't do it in an official way. he did it through private letters to his commanding general. this is his commanding general here, winfield scott. and this is the first letter, and you read part of this for today. this is from april 25th, 1861. i want you to react to the language. how does it strike you? it's hard to read so we'll read through it together. i therefore conclude that it is only left to the commanding general to watch and await their action, the maryland legislature, which if it shall be to arm their people against the united states, he is to adopt the most prompt and
efficient means to counteract even if necessary to the bombardment of their cities and in the extremist necessity the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus. let this be a lesson to all of you when you do the blue back exams have good penmanship. fortunately lincoln's handwriting is good and we can even make out how he did editing. he even wrote, even if necessary to the bombardment of their cities, and of course the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus and he changed of course and wrote in the extremist necessity. some historians look at this and say, this is careless editing. what do you guys think? what's going on here? what does it sound like lincoln might be willing to do? what does it tell you about his views of habeas corpus? molly? >> he's saying that he would rather bombard the city than
suspend the writ. >> yeah. david, do you want to add to that? >> that's what i was going to say. >> it sounds like lincoln might be more willing to bombard baltimore or annapolis or frederick, maryland, than suspend the writ. that's how sacred the writ of habeas corups is. now, again, this was done through a private letter. people publicly didn't know that lincoln had suspended the writ of habeas corpus. and in fact, in the next letter lincoln wrote that you read for today, you see that he even gave the commanding general power to suspend the writ. he delegated that power. then the commanding general then gave that power to other people, to suspend the writ. well, about a month later union military authorities had retaken baltimore, they had secured the areas, they rebuilt the burned-out bridges. and they decided to arrest one of the people who was involved in the burning out of
the railroad bridges. and the person they selected was none other than john merriman. the guy who offered to slaughter his cattle and feed the soldiers and led an expedition following them, burning out bridges, so they couldn't return. and this is john merriman's home, and it as country club today. and it is a beautiful place. if you ever drive up route 83 north of baltimore you can see it from the highway. if you decide to walk around, don't wear jeans when you go. it is a beautiful home. at 2:00 in the morning on may 25, 1861, soldiers went to this home and broke in and found merriman and rouses him from his sleep. and they took him to ft. mchenry on baltimore harbor. this is it here. it is famous because the star spangled banner was written there during the war of 1812. during the civil war this became a camp where confederate pows and union people who are citizens who are arrested for
disloyalty were imprisoned. and merriman was one of the first to be thrown in prison here. merriman was given access to lawyers and in fact i learned a couple of weeks or months ago, i was giving a lecture in baltimore about merriman and i met some of his great grandchildren, i met seven of his great grandchildren. they told me a story i wish i had known before i published the book. apparently when he was thrown in prison he was allowed to bring a table from home with him and the merriman family still has the table. i haven't seen it yet and i will make it up to maryland to see this thing. and he took this table into ft. mchenry. and he was there for a month and a half. he needed to make money. so the merriman family story is that john merriman took this table into ft. mchenry and he would play poker with his prison guards and he apparently fleeced them. so he would make money and send it home so that his family could buy the things they needed to support themselves during this time that he wasn't home to be able to care for the farm and make money for the family. well, he was given his table and
he was given access to lawyers. and his lawyers decided that they would petition for a writ of habeas corpus. and the judge who they decided to go to was none other than roger b. tawny. tawny is famous today, many of you have probably encountered him before, because he wrote the majority opinion in the dred scott decision. taney was a southerner. he had previously owned slaves. privately he wrote letters saying he believed the confederacy should be allowed to go in peace. taney was looking for a reason to be able to embarrass the lincoln administration. when merriman's lawyers came to chief justice taney on indiana avenue in washington, d.c., he explained the situation, he decided, yes, i will hear this case. and he hurried to baltimore and he presided over a case on a sunday. now, that gives you a sense of
how important this was to chief justice taney. today, we still don't hold court cases on sundays. many businesses are closed on sundays. imagine 150 years ago. sunday is the sabbath. and yet taney was willing to convene a court session on a sunday. taney had jurisdiction in this case. in those days supreme court justices would do something called riding circuit. and it literally meant, before the advent of trains, that they would get on horseback and they would have a jurisdiction within the united states, and they would ride around that jurisdiction hearing cases. they would act as trial judges. and taney's jurisdiction included maryland. it also included virginia and a few other places. and so he hurried northward to baltimore, he presided over this case, and he heard the arguments from merriman's lawyers and said, yes, i will issue the writ of habeas corpus. and so he ordered his court officer, the marshal, to travel
to ft. mchenry to deliver the writ of habeas corpus and to order the commanding general there, a guy named george cadwalder, to bring the body of john merriman into court. the marshal got to ft. mchenry and they wouldn't let him in. he had to go back to court and explain he had tried to deliver the writ and it had not been allowed. so taney then issued a verbal opinion which he then sat down in writing cast gating lincoln for violating the constitution, saying that he exceeded his authority. and you guys read part of that opinion for today so we'll talk a little bit about that in a few minutes. well, merriman sat in prison for about a month and a half. he was released in july of 1861. he was indicted in the federal courts for treason, but the case was never prosecuted. and there's a couple of reasons for that. one is the federal government was wary of prosecuting treason cases. why do you guys suppose that
would be? what would be some of the hesitation for the federal government to prosecute a treason case? maddy? >> because if they prosecuted someone and then they didn't win the case, then it would give the union a bad reputation. >> yeah, it would be a sign of weakness if you tried to prosecute and you didn't win. what else? yvonne? >> if they did a lot of cases like you could have a bias one way or the other and people could point that out and show proof that one way or the other against. >> yeah. it might look like a show trial. it might look like you're trying to make a martyr out of the accused. lauren? >> taylor. >> i'm sorry, taylor. >> if you do prosecute it would galvanize the south and that they're not treating the citizens right, they're not doing what they're supposed to do. >> it might galvanize the south, and that happened. chief justice taney had his ex parte merriman case published as a pamphlet, and it was published
in newspapers throughout the south. and jefferson davis gave speeches about this case, saying, look at what the north is doing. why would we want to be part of this society? if this is how they treat their citizens, we should be our own nation. >> basically rebellion and half the country is technically committing treason so where do you draw the line of trying everyone and trying a few people. it makes it complicated. >> yeah. half the nation is in rebellion. can we start trying everyone for treason? are we going to execute half the nation? so it's a dicey issue to think about starting treason prosecutions. and one last thing. the judge who will be presiding over this case is none other than chief justice taney. now, you can imagine if you try to bring a case for this, like this, before taney and before a jury of people from baltimore, many of whom might know john merriman or might at least be sympathetic to his cause, it's going to be very difficult to
get a conviction. which comes back to maddy's point, that then becomes an embarrassment to the nation. the treason indictment hung over john merriman's head for six years and eventually it was dismissed. now, i love this picture of john merriman and i wanted to show it to you all here. this is a wonderful version of 19th century photoshop. john merriman never held this piece of paper but someone in the 1860s thought it would be a funny idea to put a piece of paper in his hands and write habeas corpus chief justice taney's opinion as a sign of how they viewed taney's actions in this case. incidentally, merriman had a son in 1864 and he named him roger brook taney merriman in honor of the chief justice who had tried to get him out of prison. i want to talk about some of the other arrests that took place during the civil war. many of these arrests took place in the border regions, places like maryland, kentucky, west
virginia, and missouri, and missouri in many ways was the harshest place during the civil war. you had guerilla warfare that went on for years. you had one side fighting against the other, neighbor against neighbor, brother against brother, and oftentimes you didn't know who the enemy was because guerilla fighters didn't fight in regular uniforms. they might wear their enemy's uniform so they could approach the enemy and get close enough and then pull out their guns and shoot their enemy. you had instances where one group of people would burn down the other group's home and then the other group would retaliate and it would go back and forth so you could have whole villages or towns burned down. have any of you -- it's a terrible movie. have any of you seen "ride with the devil"? it's an ang lee film, jewel's in it, she's not a particularly good actress. jim caviezel is in it and toby
maguire and the love story part is terrible but for the first 30 minutes they portray guerilla warfare in missouri and gives you a sense of just how brutal it could be. military authorities in missouri had to deal with this very difficult situation. so they did what had been done in maryland earlier. they used the military to arrest guerilla fighters and people who helped guerillas. beginning in september of 1861 they added an innovation to these arrests. they began to use military commission trials to deal with civilians who aided guerillas and deal with the guerillas themselves. this system was instituted by a guy named john c. fremont. that's him in the corner. you might have come across him before. he was the first republican candidate for president in 1856 and during the civil war was a prominent politician and so he was given a general's stars, a general's commission. he was put in charge of missouri, and in september 1861 john fremont declared marshal law. in this declaration of marshal
law he did a couple things. he said, i'm going to free the slaves of confederate sympathizers. and i'm going to try disloyal people in military courts. now, lincoln rescinded the part of this order that freed the slaves. he said, you're a military commander, you have no authority to do something like that. but lincoln allowed fremont to continue using military commission trials to try civilians. and over the course of the war, this system spread. so that by the end of the war and into the reconstruction period, you had civilians and enemy fighters tried in military courts. it began in guerilla warfare missouri in september 1861. the question is, the question that we have to think about is, who was arrested? what kind of people were arrested? historically, most people only knew about famous cases. people like merriman.
and one we'll talk about in a minute, clement van decamp, a politician from ohio. about 20 years ago, a historian named mark kneelly, who will be here as part of our conference next week, did about ten years in our national archives, going to look for any scrap of paper he could find that had anything to do with military arrests and trials of civilians during the civil war. and he found about 14,000 civilians who were arrested by the military, and about 4,300 who were tried before military commissions. and what he found was that the traditional narrative that these were all democrats who opposed lincoln was not true. many of the people who were arrested, in fact, most of the people who were arrested, were civilians who in some way were either aiding the confederacy, were hurting the union war effort. so these are people who trade with confederates, who send them intelligence, who send them supplies, or they're people who